Q&A: Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino On The Fade Away EP And Binge-Watching Seinfeld
Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino may be launching her own label to release her band’s upcoming mini-album Fade Away, but that doesn’t mean she’s turned from the easygoing all-sunshine no-sweat vibes that sparkle throughout her discography. When I reached her at home by phone last month on the heels of a tour, she was cutting it close on a self-imposed songwriting deadline but seemed far more focused on big-upping her bandmate Bobb Bruno and discussing ’90s TV shows than finishing material for Best Coast’s third LP. We did, however, discuss Cosentino’s plans for her new Jewel City imprint, her thoughts on Fade Away and her increasing love for life on the road.
STEREOGUM: So your new EP is the first release on your own Jewel City label. What made you decide to start your own label?
BETHANY COSENTINO: I feel like after we were done with Mexican Summer, we recorded this EP at the beginning of the year and we were trying to decide if we wanted to sign with a label, put the EP out, and then do a record with the same label or if we wanted to go another route. After a back and forth of figuring out which labels were interested, I thought, “Why don’t I just make my own label and do it myself?” Because it not only makes it so much easier in a way because you have full control of everything but also it’s just an EP and it’s a smaller release that we really wanted to get out when we wanted it out and we wanted to do everything that goes around the campaign of an album on our own. We wanted to make the decisions for ourselves so I decided to start this label. I don’t have any plans of any other releases but I am going to try and make this an actual thing because I have it now so I feel like I might as well utilize it, depending on time and funding and all that kind of stuff.
STEREOGUM: I know you said there’s not specific plans yet but do you intend to put out other people’s records on the label?
COSENTINO: I’d love to do that. I have a ton of friends that play in really great bands and I think it would be fun to put something out by them or maybe if I heard a band that I really liked… Maybe not necessarily do full-lengths in the beginning but maybe put out 7-inches or if there’s someone I know who is a really good artist, we could put out a zine or something. I just want to do something with the label and I’m not entirely sure yet. Fade Away is the first release so after that comes out, we’ll see what happens and I’ll be able to figure out what it is I want to do with the label.
STEREOGUM: That makes sense. It seems like you’re in a position that you can expose some of those friends in a way that you wouldn’t be able to do a couple of years ago.
COSENTINO: Yeah, for sure. It’s definitely cool because now that I have this label and I have this big distribution company behind me… I’m working with Kobalt, who is helping me do so much stuff, and they’re the nicest people ever. It’s crazy to me that if I went and saw a band and said, “Oh, I really like them,” I could walk up to them and say, “Hey, I have a label and I’m interested in putting this out.” Essentially, I could make that happen. There are so many things that have happened in the last four years that if you told me when I was fifteen would happen, I would probably never believe you. I never would’ve believed that I would be a professional musician and own a record label. Those are not things I would’ve believe could happen.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, that statement that you released with the announcement of the EP and the label definitely seemed very grateful for your success, which seems refreshing.
COSENTINO: For sure. I can’t lie — in the beginning, it was really hard for me and I was very back and forth with it. I was like, “Fuck, do I want to do this? Do I want to be gone from home all the time? Do I want to live out a suitcase?” There were a lot of different doubts that I had in the very beginning but I’ve been doing this for so long now and have met so many amazing people who have told me that I’ve literally changed their lives or that I’ve saved them when they got out of a bad breakup or I saved them when this really shit thing happened to me and I just realized that this is literally the coolest thing that I could ever be doing. I feel like I don’t take it for granted anymore at all. I think when we first started, I was 22 — and I’m only 26 now — but when you’re 22 as opposed to 26, you have a lot of different feelings especially when you’re growing in the spotlight, it’s very weird and hard because people are scrutinizing you and you’re not used to it. I feel like I’ve grown really confident and comfortable and I’m in a position now where I just got home from tour yesterday and I just woke up this morning and was like, “Oh god, I wish I was on tour still.” Which is not something that ever would have happened to me four years ago. Four years ago I was counting down the days until I got to go home.
STEREOGUM: It seems like home is such a strong theme in your music and how much you love being in the place that you live.
COSENTINO: Yeah. I do. I absolutely love it and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I do all my writing at home. I don’t do writing on tour. I’ve tried before to write in hotel rooms or the back lounge of a bus or backstage and it just doesn’t work for me. I feel like when I’m home, and especially when I’m in my bedroom, it’s this safe place and it’s this place where I wake up and there’s sun poring in through the windows and there’s this balcony I can go out on and I have palm trees right outside. It’s a place where I feel like I have so many positive vibes. I’ve created this zone for myself where I feel totally inspired and comfortable and happy. When I get home, I don’t slack off and do nothing. I have work to do and a lot of stuff to write. The second I walk through my front door is when I’m like, “Ok, I’m here. I’m ready.”
STEREOGUM: You mentioned that you really wanted to get this EP out quickly. Was that something that happened really quickly and unexpectedly? What was the rush to get it out?
COSENTINO: We actually recorded the EP at the end of January/beginning of February, so it didn’t come out as quickly as I wanted. I was trying to make it and get it out immediately but we were still trying to figure out if we were going to sign to a label or if I was going to do it myself. There were a lot of different things going on. But I feel like when we did The Only Place, I was like, “Ok, this is out and this is a thing now and now I want to do something new.” I feel like a lot of that stems from when we first started the band, we literally would have a new release every month and every month we’d have a new single. We’d have someone put out a 7” and we basically did all these 7” that led up to the first record. So I feel like I have this weird thing still in me that wants to consistently be putting out music but I don’t want to be putting out so much that drives people crazy and makes people sick of us. When we did the EP, I feel like I didn’t want to do another full length yet because we had just put one out last year and I wasn’t ready for another one. Especially because The Only Place took like six months to make. In Best Coast world and the world of a lot of recording artists, that’s a really fucking long time. So the EP took three or four weeks and that’s about the limit and I start to feel like I’m done and I’m ready for it to get out. It felt like the right thing to do. If I had it my way, I would have wanted the EP out months ago. But I am glad that we ended up going the route of putting it out myself and waiting a little bit longer. I think people are really anticipating it and I think it’s important to make people want something — if you’re constantly putting out a new record, people are like, “Ok, go away.”
STEREOGUM: Yeah, that makes sense. So it’s not like it’s coming out right away compared to when you originally thought it was going to come out.
COSENTINO: Yeah. We recorded it a long time ago so we’ve been sitting on it for a while. For me, I feel like the reason why I like to do things so quickly is that I feel like the longer you have with something, the more you scrutinize yourself. When we were recording The Only Place, we were there every single day for almost six months and I remember coming in every day and saying, “I don’t even know how I feel about this anymore because I’ve been working on it for so long and I’ve heard these songs so many times.” For me, I’m a completely compulsive person. I’m the kind of person that makes decisions on a whim. I wake up and decide that I’m going to get a giant tattoo on my leg today and then I’ll literally go and do it. I don’t even think twice — I just go and do shit. So in terms of being an artist and writing and recording, I get my best work done when I impulsively do it. When I write a song, I literally write a song, record it on GarageBand, I send it to Bobb, and I don’t think about it again until I go into the studio and record it. That’s the way that I am and I feel like the more that I sit there and analyze things, the more that I start to be like, “Oh, I don’t know if I like this.” I feel like it’s best to get things done pretty quickly.
STEREOGUM: You mentioned sending it to Bobb after you write it. I was going to ask you — it seems like since you’re the lead singer, people focus on you and Bobb’s role as a core member of the band gets a little glossed over. Could you talk a little bit about what his role in the process is?
COSENTINO: He’s such an important part of Best Coast that it’s sometimes not even funny. He does so much and I feel like he’s totally fine with the fact that people are like, “Oh, well we want to interview Bethany only or this photo shoot is Bethany only.” He doesn’t care because he literally just wants to play music. He’s not trying to be some rock star. He just wants to play music and he likes writing music and he likes performing and going on tour and that’s just what he wants to do. So I think I’m very lucky to have somebody like that. You see this shit in all the Behind the Musics and all these music documentaries about all these egos in bands and when people have egos, they fall on top of each other and it’s crazy. I feel like there’s no ego in Best Coast. I literally am the most awkward person in the word and Bobb could care less about anything so we’re kind of the perfect match for each other. I feel like he works so well in terms of like when I write a song, I’ll sit in my room and write it and record it on GarageBand and then e-mail it to Bobb and I’ll write maybe five or six sentence that will say like, “Here’s a song I wrote today. It was inspired by Blondie or the Go-Gos or the Beach Boys and this is the vibe that I want to have.” I’ll record a basic part and then say, “You can build off of that or you can totally go your own route and do something totally different.” Then Bobb takes the song and does everything else and finishes it. I’m creating the blueprint and he’s completing the project. People are constantly asking us, “Why don’t you write together? Why don’t you have other people write with you? Why don’t you have a whole band to record with?” And it’s just like we’ve come up with a process that works so well and we’ve never gotten into a fight. I couldn’t even tell you. I think the biggest fight we’ve ever gotten in is like when I’m drunk and yelling and he’s trying to sleep and he’s like, “OK, please shut up.” In terms of music, we’ve never been in an argument and when we record our record or singles or EPs or whatnot, we never argue. If he plays a part and I’m like “Uhhh, I don’t know. Maybe we should do it like this,” he’s like, “OK, that’s fine!” He’s just the easiest guy in the world to work with so I feel like because we’ve created this process and it works so well for us, we have no intention of ever changing it. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. We totally have that kind of situation going on. I think the true fans understand how important Bobb is and love Bobb, but sometimes I think there are some people that overlook Bobb and think it’s all a Bethany thing. Obviously this band wouldn’t exist if I wasn’t writing the songs for it, but sometimes I wish that people would realize that if the songs were just me and the way they sound when I record them in GarageBand, this band wouldn’t be what it is. It wouldn’t be the same without Bobb. I always like to give him the props that he deserves.
STEREOGUM: Totally. Consider this this shout out. I was reading the NPR premiere of one of the songs from Fade Away and you’re quoted saying that you feel like Fade Away is halfway between the production values of the two LPs. Was that a Goldilocks kind of thing where it’s too lo-fi and too produced and this is just right kind of thing?
COSENTINO: Yeah, I feel like when I listen back to Crazy For You, I think, “Whoa, this sounds so different.” Like when we play live, they don’t sound like either record. They sound like a live recording, and I’m so used to that now because we play so much that when I listen back, I don’t even really recognize it. And when I listen back to The Only Place, I don’t really recognize that either. So I feel like when we were making Fade Away, I wanted to do something that was right down the middle. Exactly what you said — it’s just right and it’s just the amount we should have always been doing. Not that I ever regret the super lo-fi record or the super hi-fi record, it just took us a little bit of time where we got to the point where we realized what we wanted to sound like. I think every band goes through that. You grow and sometimes you grow backwards and sometimes you grow by going forward. For us, we did both. We went back a little bit in time to the way that Crazy For You sounded but we’re going to move forward a little bit and change things up in these little ways. I feel like the production value of Fade Away is exactly what I wanted things to sound like. It’s not too drenched in reverb and distortion, but it’s not too not-drenched in distortion.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, and I think you definitely succeeded in making it sound like the live show sounds based on the last time I saw you, which was at the Hangout festival. The beach seemed like an ideal setting for Best Coast music.
COSENTINO: Yeah, that was a really fun festival.
STEREOGUM: So the last thing I wanted to ask you about was the next record. I know that you’re hoping to have it out by the spring. Have you started work on it?
COSENTINO: I literally have written two songs that I’m really happy with that we’ll definitely use for the record. I have a deadline of 10/1 to have six songs done. So I just got home yesterday so I’ll probably spend three or four days doing nothing — watching TV, eating, walking around. That’s what I do when I get home. I decompress for the first few days, and then I start getting back into the work zone. Basically, we’re pretty much touring for the rest of the year. We go to Asia in November for a couple of days. Right when we get back from Asia, we go into the studio to start recording the next record. I feel like I have a lot of work to do and I don’t think it’s even hit me yet. It’s one of those things where it’ll be the day before 10/1 and I’ll be like, “Oh fuck, I have to write six songs.” I’m a procrastinator and I always have been. When I was in college, I would literally write my essays the morning they were due or I’d start at midnight the night before, so I feel like that’s always how I’ve been. I’m going to try to be really productive this go around and start in advance, but I’m feeling like I’ll probably start writing most of the songs right before we go into the studio because that’s just what I’ve done on both records and it seems to work so I guess there’s no sense in forcing myself to write if I don’t feel creative or I don’t feel like I’m in the right zone. We’ll start recording again around the 17th of November, so I’m really looking forward to it but I also am like, “Oh shit, I have so much work to do.”
STEREOGUM: Yeah, if you’re going to write four more songs before 10/1, I think that’s like eight days from now.
COSENTINO: I know. I keep looking at the calendar and I’m like, “Oh my god, I need to stop watching Seinfeld and start writing music.”
STEREOGUM: Has that been the DVD binge lately?
COSENTINO: I am constantly watching Seinfeld. I take it on tour all the time and I literally have all of them on DVD but my DVD collection is so disorganized so I’ll like find four discs laying on the ground and it’ll literally be the same four discs I took on the tour before so I’m like, “Ok, I have to watch the Junior Mint episode for the ninetieth time.” But that episode is one of those things that I can put on and watch it over and over again and it’s not annoying and doesn’t bother me. It’s comfort food to me. I emotionally eat Seinfeld. I just put it on and I feel so much better. Recently, though… I was never really into The Simpsons when I was growing up but within the last few years, I’ve gotten really into The Simpsons. So I’ve been watching Seinfeld, The Simpsons, The Sopranos, and Martin, and they’re my go-to shows right now. They’re all weird and don’t really make sense together…
STEREOGUM: With The Simpsons you don’t really have any shortage of episodes to catch up on.
COSENTINO: Yeah, I know. That’s what everyone says. Like, “Even though you’ve gotten into it late, you’ve got like a million episodes to watch.” Everyone tells me season 4 is the best.